Just Because It’s Needed Doesn’t Mean You’re The One To Do It
Fun fact: when I was 21, I started a coffee shop in Cloverdale, BC, my home town. It was called Kellybeans.
I started it because I’d grown disenchanted with university but was newly bewitched by fancy caffeine. Espresso, affogato, cappucino, oh my!
I was obsessed. And home.
And there was nowhere to go to get a latte or see a painting or hear a poet at an open mic or play checkers or just plain hang out with other humans after 7pm.
Our little town was pre-Starbucks and I saw an opportunity.
I also believed, intensely, that our community needed more ‘third spaces’.
And so I decided to create one.
The first year, I worked in the shop 12-14 hours a day, six days a week. On the seventh day, I baked for the shop, picked up supplies for the week, and did my books.
The things I was proud of and loved doing:
- Researching, running the numbers, visioning, making it real
- Writing the business plan
- Producing sales collateral (menus, brochures, posters, gift certificates)
- Writing newspaper and magazine ads
- Picking the equipment, the mugs, the plates, and decorating the shop
- Meeting with artists (I ran 3-month installations where local artists could hang their art on my walls and sell their pieces)
- Holding poetry nights and community events
Things I didn’t like doing:
- Being in the shop all day
- Dealing with suppliers
- Talking to people all day
- Smiling at my landlord who irritated the shit out of me
- Doing my books
- Touching food
- Making coffee
- Making coffee
- Making coffee
- Working 7 days a week, 14 hours a day
After a year, I was breaking even, which is extraordinary in the restaurant/cafe industry. Most restaurants are in the red and close down within the first 2-3 years.
And I was exhausted, over it, and hating my life. I loved getting the business started; I hated running it. HATED IT.
But my regulars adored the place. University students were haunting it. Where else in our town could you get cheesecake at 9m and a poem on Monday nights? Where else was there a massive pop-art painting of a cow on the wall that actually, if you looked close, consisted of hundreds of vulvas disguised as flowers, the sun, trees, grass? (I loved that painting.) David Duchovny came in! (X-files was filming locally.)
It was the thriving third space I knew we needed.
I wanted to burn it to the ground.
My point: just because something is needed doesn’t mean you’re the one to do it.
There’s a business/creativity koan that says “Make the thing you need” or “Create the thing you wish existed.”
Which sounds nice but can lead you so far off course.
I need a third space and so did our community; but I’m not the right person to tend one.
I wanted an artsy coffee shop to frequent; but I was constitutionally NOT the right person to own and run a cafe.
I am, however, the right person to research a market, spot an opportunity, design a business model, convince people to support it, develop sales collateral and marketing strategy, and make it WORK.
I think two things are important guardrails here:
1. Knowing yourself and trying, wherever possible, to use your talents and skills in the highest impact way possible. (Your “zone of genius”, as Gay Hendricks writes)
- I can bake, for example, but it is not easy for me. It’s a much better use of my time to use those hours and energy designing a marketing strategy or producing a module for a course
- I can do my own data entry in Freshbooks, but I make a lot of mistakes and miss a lot of opportunities. Much better to spend that time being a guest on other people’s podcasts or writing a book chapter
- I do like people, and I enjoy conversation, but doing it all day every day depletes me. So I’m not the right person to attune to group dynamics or facilitate daily discussions or be the third party who mediates conflict. Being the holder of a third space — whether it’s a coffee shop or online group — is really not the best use of my skills nor will I be as good at it as someone who actually loves that stuff
2. Being part of an ecosystem helps you know that you’re not the only one who could take this project/business/cause on
Being networked roots out your scarcity/grandiosity thoughts. If you know that there are other people out there capable of doing a thing, actually working on a thing, and BETTER THAN YOU AT IT, you can free yourself from the notion that if you don’t do it, no one will. There are already people doing the thing. SUPPORT THEM. Then go work on things in your zone of genius
We’re all better off, collectively, when we’re working on things that we can do brilliantly rather than grudgingly.
So…if you’re looking for a sign, this is it.Maybe it’s time to stop doing the things you’re doing out of obligation, because they’re needed, but you know you’re not the right person to do them.No maybe about it.
And maybe, when you do, the right opportunities that were lurking in the shadows will suddenly announce themselves to you.
I got to a bit of a breaking point and decided to sell the coffee shop. I had no idea how you even went about selling a business. But I knew it had to happen.
And then a dude who owned a franchise walked in the shop and offered to buy it.
32 days later the cheque was in my account and I was on a plane to Europe.
Eventually I went back to school and doubled down on the things I’m good at and built a whole-ass business around them and here I am, today, in your inbox.
And ready to declutter my life, again, of the things I shouldn’t be doing so I can do more of the things only I can do.
Just because it’s needed doesn’t mean you’re the one to do it.
love + justice,